|Deepika Padukone, Shah Rukh Khan, Sathyaraj, Nikitin Dheer, Priyamani|
The train snakes along the winding path as the girl and boy meet in the unlikeliest circumstances. In the train compartment, South Indian girl says the four men with her are kidnapping her, Mumbai boy is clueless. He stomps around foolishly as the goons throw his phone out of the window. He proceeds to mumble the phone’s brand, features and price.
I guess such marketing audacity is accepted in a film like this. An unabashed commercial one.
Girl’s (Padukone) dad wants her to marry the local goon. She runs away. Meets common man with a common name Rahul (Khan), and their lives get intertwined. SRK plays an affable buffoon who has to travel to the South as per his grandfather’s dying wish. So he gets onboard Chennai Express and you might as well guess the entire movie.
Why she must run after a train that takes her back to her own village is perplexing. Anything to add a little DDLJ reminiscence, eh? It’s also difficult to believe that when in trouble and having forgotten his friends’ numbers, it does not occur to Rahul to dial his own home.
More improbable is the way the entire story develops after that. But I can already imagine the readers wondering why I’m looking for logic in a Rohit Shetty movie. Ok. The idea to enjoy the film is to set reason aside and try not to judge.
Since the film is set in the South it has to have: a ribbing of the language (Tamil, in this case), exaggerated accents, big burly men in huge mustaches, a Kathakali interlude used insensitively in a song, and humour coming out of the language barrier.
The ribbing of the language, which SRK calls “kudbud”, is light-hearted and his comment that her full name is longer than most people’s addresses is funny. The tone is good-humoured teasing, never offensive. The humour also includes several dialogues from Khan’s movies. The ploy works intermittently, especially the DDLJ portions.
SRK is quite likable in the first half, and he works the adorable buffoon act superbly. That’s till he’s made to hog the limelight in the finale and starts off on a monologue. The finale itself could pass of as an ‘80s movie spoof with the hero’s blood-splattered face, a never-ending fight sequence and the heroine crying out his name.
As for characterization, whatever is developed is changed without a notice. Rahul’s character is interesting at first because he’s the antithesis of the macho Hindi film hero. Easily cowered and non-violent, you enjoy this departure. That’s till the second half where the Bollywood keeda bites him, we suppose.
The street-smart girl is given no background (is she studying, does she have any ambition/talent) except that she’s the don’s daughter and is on the run.
Still, Deepika Padukone is marvelous as the quick-thinking, gutsy girl with a sense of humour. It’s quite incredible how, despite the overblown twang, she doesn’t let the character turn into a caricature. From the breezy character in Cocktail to the traditionally dressed girl in Chennai Express, Padukone’s versatility is super-impressive. And we wonder how many actors would look this good in a simple white sari with a gold border.
Shetty does what he knows best. Revel in the overkill. So, we enjoy the beautiful visuals but are distracted by the excesses. We love SRK’s goofy act and cringe when it turns into hamming towards the finale, we wonder why the fight scenes just do not seem to end.
(Side note to Rohit Shetty: you might want to ditch calling women ‘item’. It’s regressive and passe. And to think the film debates on why a daughter’s wish is not considered for marriage!)
What Shetty (he shares screen credit with his team) does is conjure up the cinematic equivalent of a fast food staple. The director folds in the massive stars, the hit music, the humour and an immersing story situation to bring you a fairly entertaining ride. Hop on this Chennai Express then. Ready steady po!
Rating: Three and a half stars